2021-22 Colorado Pheasant & Quail Forecast

Learn how weather and habitat loss have combined to create a challenging forecast for Eastern Plains pheasant and quail hunters.

COLORADO PHEASANT HUNTING

SEASON 1: Nov. 13–Jan. 31, 2022
AREA: East of I-25

SEASON 2: Nov. 13–Jan. 2, 2022
AREA: West of I-25
DAILY BAG LIMIT: 3 cocks
POSSESSION LIMIT: 9 cocks

Download the 2021 Colorado Small Game and Waterfowl Hunting Brochure

General Outlook

Pheasant populations across the eastern plains of Colorado will be slightly higher than in 2020. In 2021 in northeast Colorado, pheasant call count surveys showed an average decrease of 20% from 2020, suggesting that pheasant populations were subject to a normal decline over winter, although the crowing count data was still significantly higher than the last 15 years’ average. Crowing Counts are an index only and make no prediction about nest success and chick recruitment, which is expected to be fair in 2020, considering the severe drought from 2020 which enveloped the core and secondary pheasant range over the winter and spring, finally subsided in May of 2021, and then hit again in June/July 2021. In southeast Colorado, counts are lower than in the northeast, which is very typical for the area. Weather conditions in southeast Colorado on average were much better in 2021. However, lack of habitat is the continued concern for southeast Colorado.

Shaded area of map represents ring-necked pheasant overall range in Colorado.

Hunters harvested an estimated 30,000 pheasants in Colorado in 2020-21. The stark truth of the matter is that the quality and amount of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands have drastically declined over the last several years, roughly since 2011, which also coincides with Colorado’s lowest harvest estimate on record. While stripper head harvested wheat stubble has helped slow pheasant declines, the lack of permanent grass cover and generally unfavorable weather is restricting bird numbers right now.

Measuring nesting success and chick survival is an imprecise estimate at best when done without radio marking hundreds of hens and chicks, which would be much too costly to accomplish. Instead, some states conduct summer brood counts, in which the surveyor drives a predetermined route, counting and classifying all pheasants seen by age and sex. This method is used in Colorado occasionally, however, it provides a very unreliable index of the fall population, due to the fact that the method requires multiple replications during very specific weather conditions (high humidity resulting in dew, which forces birds to the roads to dry off in the morning). In Colorado’s core pheasant range, the technique generally doesn’t provide much value, because in seasons with high humidity, vegetation growth along roadsides often hides pheasant broods from detection. Conversely, in dry years with little humidity, there is little reason for pheasant broods to congregate along a road. That being said, it is a safe assessment that actual numbers are better than 2020 due to a wet May, however, it is questionable that the degree of increase will be visible to hunters in the field. June and July were much too dry in most locations on the eastern plains, for pheasants to thrive in Colorado. We expect some locations to be similar to last year, overall, the forecast is similar to last year which was a below-average year. As in most years, populations will be spotty particularly in or near the hailstorm tracks that fell in late August and into September. Significant rain fell across the plains in September, however, it was much too late to help populations. There will be some areas with good to really good pheasant hunting, however, it is nearly impossible to identify those areas prior to hunters getting into the fields.

County Map

Northeast Colorado (Yuma, Phillips, Sedgwick, Logan, Washington, Morgan and SE Weld Counties)

(Yuma, Phillips, Sedgwick, Logan, Washington, Morgan and SE Weld Counties)

Spotty is the theme for the northeast portion of Colorado. Populations across the region will be similar or a little higher than 2020. Conditions were drier than optimum last winter, which slowed nesting cover development and early brood habitat this spring. May was very cool and wet, while June quickly turned hot and dry. July was very dry, however, which is problematic, as pheasant chick forage (bugs) needs some occasional rainfall to be abundant. Conditions did not improve until after the nesting effort had concluded. Some rain did fall in August and September, providing a slight boost to habitat growth. Colorado Parks and Wildlife receives several reports from landowners during the wheat harvest, and the overwhelming reports from landowners in July were observations of few or no broods during wheat harvest. This trend has continued into autumn, with relatively few observations of pheasant broods into October. Most pheasants observed have been adults. As the fall has progressed, it seems that the population of pheasants are very spotty in 2020, with little observable rhyme or reason. It is probably as simple as small areas may have gotten a bit more rainfall over the course of the season than a nearly identical area a few miles away.

Habitat is less in quantity than what hunters are accustomed to. It is important to note that total CRP acres have greatly declined across the core pheasant range. While some new fields have been established, the relatively low numbers of new fields versus the loss of thousands of acres significantly tilt in the direction of lost acres.

Road conditions can deteriorate quickly when precipitation falls, making unimproved roads virtually impassable. Fire danger is high, requiring hunters to pay special attention to where they park vehicles. Also, note that WIA sprinkler corners are closed to WIA hunting when the landowner is harvesting the associated crop. Harvest is ongoing and with dry weather will progress greatly in the next couple of weeks. This closure is in effect to allow harvesters to work efficiently, and to minimize safety concerns for hunters and harvesters. Corners are posted with closure signs in addition to WIA boundary signs. As of November 4, 2021, corn harvest is estimated to be 80-90% on average, which is much higher than normal. Expect some corn standing by the opener.

South Platte River (eastern Morgan, Washington, Logan, Sedgwick)

eastern Morgan, Washington, Logan, Sedgwick

Bobwhite quail populations remain a question mark for 2021. Whistle counts were down slightly across the northeast. In many areas on the South Platte, cover can be too tall and dense to effectively hunt. Landowner reports have been highly variable in 2020, while Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff has reported some bobwhite broods and coveys on State Wildlife Areas. In past drought years, significant impacts have been seen with bobwhite populations on the South Platte corridor, so it is very possible that populations are reduced from last year.

East Central Colorado (Southern Yuma, Kit Carson, Cheyenne, Kiowa Counties)

East Central Colorado (Southern Yuma, Kit Carson, Cheyenne, Kiowa Counties)

Pheasant populations should be lower better than 2020. Expect similar conditions to the NE portion of Colorado with very site-specific conditions in terms of habitat and pheasant population recovery. Some areas experienced severe hailstorms and populations will be lower in these areas. Pheasant densities will increase within the areas that provide sprinkler irrigation fields. In Kit Carson County, hunters will note a significant loss of CRP acres, which has impacted populations to some degree as well as the amount of land available to hunt.

Hunters should note that many areas in WIA in Kiowa County are enrolled primarily for their value for light goose hunting, including some fields that will offer little cover for pheasants and quail.

Extreme SE Colorado (Baca & Prowers Counties)

Extreme SE Colorado (Baca & Prowers Counties)

Pheasants continue to suffer from a general lack of good habitat and drought conditions in southeast Colorado. Some good habitat does exist in the general area around Walsh and Stonington, however, pheasant populations may be slightly better than in 2021. Expect to find smaller numbers of primarily adult pheasants where good habitat exists.

Quail populations are expected to be similar to 2020 but significantly lower than 2016 in southeast Colorado. The southeast portion of Colorado was subject to a couple of good precipitation years consecutively, however, that changed in 2020. Bobwhite quail are coming off the effects of those good years in 2021, so populations may be a bit higher. Luckily, the weather moderated over the summer, possibly cueing some late nests. Reports on scaled quail are mostly poor or questionable in 2020. Expect scaled quail populations to be similar to or a bit less in 2020.

Hunter Notes

Walk-In hunting areas are closed to hunting when the landowner is harvesting the associated crop.
  • Hunting on private land requires permission. With the exception of land enrolled in Walk-In Access (Colorado Parks and Wildlife has leased WIA lands opening them to hunting), you must obtain permission to hunt private land, whether that land is posted or not.
  • Landowners are very perceptive of the actions of hunters, whether on their land, WIA properties, or their neighbor’s property. Trespassing, leaving trash, carcasses or damaging property leaves a poor image with landowners, while courteous and respectful hunting gives a good image.
  • Fall harvest is a very stressful period for landowners. Interrupting harvest or stopping a combine to ask for hunting permission is not a good idea. Standing at the end of the field waiting for the combine to flush birds is not recommended. Both are likely to draw the ire of the landowner, and are questionable activities at best when considering how important landowner relations are to gaining and maintaining access.
  • Be respectful of other hunters.

How to Field Dress a Pheasant

Learn a few easy ways to field dress a pheasant.

Video: How to Field Dress a Pheasant

Take a Friend Hunting Contest

Share the joy of hunting and be entered for a chance to win some amazing prizes! Colorado Parks and Wildlife, along with our hunting partners, is encouraging hunters to take a friend into the field. As a reward for taking the time to teach a new hunter, CPW has created a contest for mentors who pass on their knowledge. Take a novice hunter out and you will both be entered to win some great prizes by submitting a photograph and brief story about your experience. Submissions will be judged by their ability to inspire. Learn more!


2021-22 Pheasant Forecast by Ed Gorman. Gorman is the Small-Game Manager for CPW. 

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